Consultants will evaluate DEIS for Reader’s Digest property; hearing on July 28
July 3, 2009
by Christine Yeres
At last week’s public hearing on developer Summit Greenfield’s completed draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, relating to their mixed use proposal for the former Reader’s Digest property, residents encouraged the town board to independently evaluate and verify the contents of the statement. Although the board made no commitment at that meeting, this week Town Administrator Gennaro Faiella confirmed that the board’s consultants are in fact continuing to analyze the document and additional experts will be hired as needed.
Faiella explained that when the town board declared the draft environmental impact statement “complete” on May 19, 2009, that meant in essence that “the developers looked at the issues we said they should look at. Now we want to dig into the numbers and the assumptions that were made.” The conclusions in the statement, he emphasized, are those of the developer, not the town board.
According to Faiella, the town’s outside planning consultant, Joanne Meder of Frederick P. Clark Associates, is continuing her study of the entire document. Meanwhile, the board and Faiella will decide what experts to engage to analyze the traffic, the school demographics and the financial and tax portions of the draft environmental impact statement and report back to the board in time for the next hearing date on July 28. Town Supervisor Barbara Gerrard confirmed last week that the fees incurred for continued evaluation of the developer’s documents are passed on to the developer as provided by law.
The school board and the district’s administrators will be looking into four areas of the DEIS: enrollment projections, school fiscal issues, school physical plant issues and traffic issues as they relate to the safety of students. At this point, the district is reviewing the DEIS internally and does not expect to hire outside consultants for its analysis. It is anticipated that they will be prepared to complete their analysis in time for the July 28 hearing.
As long as the public and the board have substantive comments to proffer on the draft environmental impact statement and on the proposal, the hearing and comment period could be extended yet again. When the town board finally closes the hearing, the public has an additional ten business days to submit comments on the draft environmental impact statement.
Town and developer continue disagreement over parking
Besides the hot-button issues of traffic impact, school population predictions and tax revenue assumptions, there is a quieter, ongoing disagreement between the town and the developer about whether the 1680 parking spaces at Reader’s Digest are enough spaces for the various components of Summit Greenfield’s proposal. During a work session discussion of Summit Greenfield’s previous application for zoning changes, Joanne Meder informed the planning board of potential concerns. If the town lifts the current cap of four office tenants permitted, or grants a zoning change for mixed office and residential use of the property to include 278 condos in townhouses and apartment buildings, the existing parking may not be enough to satisfy current town standards.
Parking ratios now in effect were grandfathered in when the property changed hands from Reader’s Digest to Summit Greenfield. The old ratios require fewer parking spaces in proportion to the office space than current town regulations. These newer ratios could be applied if a zoning change were granted. Faiella confirmed that “there were a couple of different calculations on how to do the parking, but I can’t comment on it until we look more deeply into it.”
How the draft becomes final
The draft environmental impact statement contains the developer’s view of the environmental impacts the project will have on the property and the surrounding community as well as the developer’s suggestions on how those impacts can be mitigated. Environmental impacts required to be analyzed include physical effects on land, air, water; aesthetic effects; the effects on existing patterns of population concentration, distribution or growth; and the effect on the existing community or neighborhood character.
In its analysis of the statement, the town board and its experts could decide, for example, that a mitigating factor proposed by the developer will not mitigate the environmental impact as much as the developer says it will. In this way, the town transforms the draft into a final environmental impact statement that reflects their view of the environmental impact of the proposed project. The town board then adopts the final statement as its own document.
If substantive differences remain between the developer’s conclusions in the draft environmental impact statement and the town board’s conclusions, the board’s judgment prevails in the final environmental impact statement. Based on the final statement, the town board will make a decision on whether to approve or to not approve Summit Greenfield’s application for a zoning change. If Summit Greenfield believes that the town board’s decision is wrong, it can challenge that decision in court.
Hearings continue on July 28
The public hearings on the draft environmental impact statement will continue on July 28 at town hall at 7:00 p.m. Residents can submit written comments between now and ten business days after the public hearing is finally closed, or they can come in person to address the town board at the hearing on July 28.
The town board has mounted the DEIS and related documents on a dedicated website:
A video of the June 23 public hearing is available on demand on NCCTV. Click here to see it. The first 30 minutes is the developer’s presentation followed by 90 minutes of comments and questions from 23 speakers.
For a complete listing of NewCastleNOW.org’s previous articles and letters to the editor on Summit Greenfield’s proposal for the former Reader’s Digest property, click here.
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